LifeThought: A gift is not a gift if you expect ANYTHING in return!

A gift is not a gift if you expect ANYTHING in return!

Warning: this concept will probably step on a few toes!

Gift giving should be among the easiest and most enjoyable things we do. Why, then, is it often so frustrating?

Have you ever given a gift and gotten your feelings hurt because you didn’t get a “thank you” in return? If so, it wasn’t a gift.

Have you ever been upset because you gave a gift to someone, only to find out later they gave it to someone else? If so, it wasn’t a gift.

Have you ever made a charitable donation to an organization, but wanted to be publicly recognized in some way for the “gift?” If so, it wasn’t a gift.

You see, the definition of “Gift” is: an item given to someone without the expectation of payment.

“But”, you may be thinking, “I didn’t expect any kind payment for it. All I wanted was a simple ‘Thank You.'”

Do you see the conflict? The problem lies in the phrase “all I wanted.” When you want anything in receipt, it’s not a gift. What you want is payment in the form of a simple “Thank you!” A small payment, to be sure, but a payment nonetheless.

If you get upset when you don’t get a “Thank you,” or the person gives your gift to someone else, or doesn’t use the gift in the way you intended it to be used, or doesn’t publicly acknowledge the gift, it wasn’t a gift. You were requiring payment in the form of acknowledgment or appreciation or putting it to the best use. You might not think of it as a payment, but it is.

Yes, it is common courtesy to say “Thank you” when someone gives us something. However, you can’t control what other people do or say; all you can control is you.

Here’s another concept that may be uncomfortable: The only reason you should ever give a gift is because you want to!

If you feel compelled to give something, it’s not a gift! If you are not giving simply because it pleases you to do so, it’s not a gift.

In some sense, true gift giving is ultimately a selfish act. You give because it pleases you to give. You give because it makes you happy to give.

Certainly, part of what makes you happy is the knowledge that what you are giving is something that the other person wants, needs, or would make them happy to receive it. You wouldn’t enjoy giving something that the recipient doesn’t even want, right?

For me, the most enjoyable form of giving anonymous giving! I get great joy from giving something that I know they really need, yet they have absolutely no idea who gave it and absolutely no way of repaying the gift.

So think about your gift giving. If you let go of wanting something in return, it really becomes much more enjoyable!

NOTE: You may also listen to me talk about this subject on the Life Is A Marathon podcast: A Gift is Often NOT a Gift!

8 Responses to LifeThought: A gift is not a gift if you expect ANYTHING in return!

  1. Paul Jones January 16, 2014 at 8:10 AM #


    I enjoyed this excellent article. This has been my way of thinking for some time but it has been hard to get others to see what a gift should be. As a former Realtor, it is not uncommon to see Realtors advertise that a portion of each commission goes to a charity. I think this is in bad taste and is certainly not “charity”, but the cost of advertising. I hope people learn something from this article.

    • Bruce January 16, 2014 at 8:35 AM #

      Paul, you’re right that is in bad taste. And while I think it is good go give to large organizations like United Way, there is often pressure for employees to “give” directly from their paychecks. That’s not giving if it’s coerced.

      Best wishes,

  2. Franka Baly August 24, 2014 at 2:45 PM #

    Great article! A great reminder of the concept of true giving. I am reminded of the biblical saying that God loves a cheerful giver. Not someone who does it half-heartedly or seeking acknowledgement or reward. As a person who writes a blog weekly, it is sometimes hard not to count how many followers you get, how many “likes”, or retweets are given. It is my gift. I will renew my commitment to give away this time I spend with my weekly audience sharing what manifests in me each week, whether zero or thousand people like it!

  3. Owusu July 23, 2016 at 4:20 PM #

    I’m deeply move with the wisdom, and delightfully the rebuke on how to give gifts. Thank you, Bruce, for the great article. Thank you also, Franka, for the insightful comments. I have to confess that worrying about the ‘likes’, ‘retweets’, ‘followers’, etc has distorted my commitment to share consistently.
    So I’m also making up my mind to renew my commitment to share my thoughts “whether zero or thousand people like it!”

  4. Michelle Nash August 2, 2017 at 11:29 AM #

    Friends gifted my husband and I a vacation. It made us uncomfortable, but they insisted “no strings attached.”. Now they want us to pay them back. They are wealthy people, and we cannot afford to pay them back. Should we take money out of our retirement fund and pay them?

    • Bruce August 2, 2017 at 11:33 AM #

      No. If they said it was a gift, you should not feel obligated to pay them for it. If it damages their relationship with you, that’s a choice they are making.

  5. Timmy March 2, 2020 at 6:02 PM #

    Loved this article!!! Thank you.

  6. Meagan June 3, 2021 at 3:05 PM #

    This is definitely the true definition of gift giving, and great advice for the gift giver.
    However, I hope gift recipients don’t take this advice as an excuse to get out of the act of a thank you card, note, or simple verbal thank you.
    While it’s not ok for the giver to expect a thank you for a true gift, it is also incredibly rude for the recipient to not at least say thank you and at most write a lovely thank you note. The alternate to a “thank you” would be a “no thank you, I don’t need this.”
    No communication at all is rude.
    But this article does great good in prompting a giver to give without expectation.
    Etiquette is a construct designed to promote good will and avoid disgusting or offensive behavior.
    Lack of gratitude, while certainly within a person’s rights and freedoms, is also a choice.
    While anonymous gifting is fun and easy to feel good about, a known yet ungracious recipient does not create good feelings for the giver.
    Not saying “thank you” is the best way to avoid relieving future gifts.
    Every action has a reaction, regardless of any one-sided bits of logic people may propose to avoid a simple “thank you.”